By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Book Reviewer | Published December 8, 2011
“INSIDE THE MASS: A SPIRITUAL REFLECTION ON THE NEW TRANSLATION” by Father Theodore Book, SLL; Scepter Publishers, Inc., (New York, N.Y., 2011). 122 pp., paperback; $9.95.
If you’ve ever had trouble explaining to a curious friend what Mass is all about, or yearned to understand the prayers more deeply, this book is for you. In clear and precise language Father Theodore Book, director of the Office for Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, reflects eloquently on each part of the Mass.
In the first chapter, Father Book reflects on the moment when we enter a Catholic church and notice a lit candle in a red glass globe near the tabernacle, indicating the presence of Christ. In the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, “This makes a Catholic Church different from every other place in the world.”
Father Book minces no words when he underscores the importance of the moments before Mass begins. This isn’t time to socialize with friends but is instead time for prayer. After all, he notes, we are about to do the most important thing we’ve ever done before, which is receiving Christ in the Eucharist.
The book also explains why some responses have been changed. For example, our reply to the priest saying “the Lord be with you” was formerly “and also with you.” The new response is “and with your spirit,” which is an exact translation from the original Latin. Further, according to St. John Chrysostom, this wording emphasizes the Holy Spirit, which a priest receives in a special way when he is ordained.
In explaining the opening rites, the author emphasizes the importance of reciting the Confiteor as a way to ready our souls for the Eucharist. With the recent changes in the Mass, we are resurrecting an old custom, namely striking the breast three times as we confess, while saying “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” The repetition of words and gesture underscores our awareness of the seriousness of our sins, and also brings to mind St. Peter denying the Lord three times.
The book deftly answers questions many readers may have quietly wondered about. For example, why does the priest add one drop of water to the wine before the consecration? “If we are open to God (and) saturated with the divine Presence,” the author notes, “we do not cease to exist, any more than the (drop of) water does.” Instead, we become permeated with Christ, “and our wills reach perfection in unison with his will.”
As Father Book points out, the answer to the question about why we go to Mass is revealed in a congregational response: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name.”
Many people in our consumer culture, he notes, go to Mass “primarily to get something out of it,” but in truth, “we go not so much to get as to give—to give God the honor and glory due to him.”
More judicious editing could have helped the book considerably. Most importantly, the prologue needed some history about the third edition of the Roman Missal. Oddly enough, although “Inside the Mass” is about the new English translation, the Missal itself isn’t mentioned. Many readers will be curious to know why the Mass changes were made, at whose order, and exactly how long this took. Also, the book at times implies that incense and the presence of deacons are standard fare in all parishes, when in fact they are not.
All in all, “Inside the Mass” would be helpful to anyone preparing to be received into the Catholic Church. One especially strong chapter examines the Creed in great depth, explaining the history and meaning of our beliefs. The book will also speak to seasoned Catholics seeking a deeper understanding of the Mass, especially the revised wording.
Father Book explains the Mass cogently and competently without diluting the majesty and awe that are its hallmarks. His loving reverence for the miracle that happens on the altar shines through quite strongly.